we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

The Journey (to Find a Pathway to Global Climate and Conservation Responsibility) Step 7 of 8 – How do you Hug a Cladistic Tree?

. . . When the lateral roots of two Douglas-firs run into each other underground, they fuse. Through those self-grafting knots, the two trees join their vascular systems together and become one. Networked together underground by countless thousands of miles of living fungal threads, the trees feed and heal each other, keep their young and sick alive, pool their resources and metabolites into community chests. — Richard Powers [1]

As the above quote from Richard Powers’ 2018 novel, The Overstory, demonstrates, it is in fact possible to produce poetic expressions that put us in ‘touch’ with stable ecological systems. The connectedness can be ‘felt’ as our own immediate contact with ‘other beings’, and this contact spills outwards as a progressive extension of our own being. This bodily but covert feeling-our-way is especially easy when the beings we make contact with are also interacting physiologically through vegetable and fungal roots and threads, and this is what allows Powers to paint an intimate portrait of a well-established interspecies ‘system’. Here is another of his offerings:

This gospel of new forestry is confirmed by the most wonderful findings: beards of lichen high in the air, that grow only on the oldest trees and inject essential nitrogen back into the living system. Subterranean voles that feed on truffles and spread the spores of angel fungi that infuse into the roots of trees in partnership so tight it’s hard to say where one organism leaves off and the other begins. Hulking conifers that sprout adventitious roots high in the canopy that dip back down to feed in the mats of soil accumulating in the vees of their own branches.
Patricia gives herself to Douglas-firs. Arrow-straight, untapering, soaring up a hundred feet before the first branch. They’re an ecosystem unto themselves. hosting more than a thousand species of invertebrates.
. . . Richard Powers [2]

Extending our being through vast time-frames though where beings themselves change from frame to frame and body forms drift continuously, and (if changing pressures so ‘inspire’) where forms may undergo phylogenetic and therefore (very unlike an ontogenetic tree) polymorphic branchings that’s far more difficult. Or is it impossible? Maybe only an intelligent amoeba would actually ‘get it’? Here are some of my semi-poetical attempts to express a ‘touch’ of evolution.


Feb. 22, 2007   On the Train to Sioux Lookout
“Amazing,” he said,
“A hundred miles of nothing
And then a couple of cabins.”
While lazing my head
On pane or stiles of window,
I watched the froggy havens,
One by one go by,
Each a world and I,
December 1983  Deeper than Notions

Is the stuff in,
Are the notions which strain
Upon Nature’s woof in,
The human brain;
By that fabric,
So wordlessly rich,
All notions find proof in
Every stitch.
 Winter 1974/1975 All the Reader Knows

Looking back with righteous glance
The newer world transcends the old.
Resolved, evolving circumstance,
This is how the story’s told.
This is how the story grows:
Each verse has more significance;
Each line says all the reader knows.
Yet, once the time of telling’s past,
Which word is most important:
The first one?
Or the last?
December 1982  The Finish Line (Aesop extended)

The tortoise crossed the line
With that rabbit far behind
Poking in a bush
(To the reptile’s keen disgust
For victory’s only sweet when
Acknowledged by defeat!).
As, before the forest’s eyes,
The fox placed the prize
Upon the tortoise shell,
He was thinking, “what the hell’s
Jack run ‘cross this time so
Far from
The finish line?”
December 1993    Life's Skyline in Winter

On a dream-dark world of Silhouette,
Our sight informed by starlight,
In form we see the spruce tree,
A steeple in the night.
Where galaxies of stars are met
By woods across their far light,
Winter branches, bare and lusty,
Frame primord’al might;
Frame the universal deep
With dark spires and tracery,
With shadows so surprising
Here distance needn’t be.
With distance, I’d have joined in sleep,
Or passed it by too hastily:
Earth’s Cathedral astride the rising
Abyss of history.
Thurs. July 26/07 Ageless and Tireless
The heat drains.
The cold braces.
Our bodies know what to do.
In what distant places
And what special climes,
Over what vast times
Have they learned this?
The knowing body
That rises each morning
And sleeps every night
Is ageless
And tireless.
Fri. Oct. 26/07     The Sea Inside
The sea bellies up, and wells down;
Great and ancient swells
That still move
In my lungs and heart.
My skin, and my inner ears,
Tingle and sing
Like the hissing spray
Of some ancient sea.
Close your eyes and listen.
Can you feel the timeless rhythm?
Thurs. July 12/07 Talking with a Determinist
 You said, “I’ve found a relationship
 Between bilateral symmetry,
 The energy of angular momentum,
 And animal form, movement and
 Felt experience.”
 I responded by suggesting a similar relationship
 Between open or closed experience,
 And still or spinning mind.
 I said, “I don’t know why
 I resist arguments
 Requiring evolution to follow some
 ‘formal’ logic,
 Requiring a billion irreversible ‘choices’ 
 to converge 
 on some prescribed physical necessity.
 I would like to 
 Explore this resistance with you.”
 You didn’t really respond.
 In any way I could recognize. 
Winter 1984/85   Continuity

An arrow carries all but all
The force of string and bow
So the eyeball of the archer
All but knows where it will go.
And so it is with everything:
Little nuts and trees,
All things are all but given as
For if sigh and song and righteous stand,
Dove and fisted glove,
Have added force according to
Their stamp of primal love.
Still, not one of us, if prince or pawn,
If farmer’s wife or queen,
All but knows where she is going
Not recalling where he’s been.


Fri. June 14/07    Dragon Boat Festival
Tents, coloured lights,
Even a bit of fire:
Something pretty primal here.
Sun’s heat is suspended
In the day that’s ended
And only the warm breeze,
Bright star,
Blanket cloud,
Moves time beyond our time
To human
Sun. Aug. 26/07   Devil’s Paint Brush
 Orange Hawkweed in the grass,
 In the bird song, in the breeze,
 Under the fir trees,
 Pierces me.
 Not deep, like memory:
 The first smell of salt air
 Sweeping over strange grasses
 In the twilight
 (Have you heard the Miocene story?),
 Upon which I or something like me
 was long ago
 Here I must return
 With a stroke of the more humble brush.
 There are stories attached
 To the sea,
 And there is the power of song
 In time,
 Which does not wait
 On mere timelessness:
 These flee eternally
 The devil’s brush,
 Yet cannot escape
 That which restores
 And honours them. 
August 1984  Castles in the Sand

In a shower of love gleam the hawk and the dove
And to hope would be unkind:
He that preens in the mist of his dreams
Is not washed though his skies unbind.
At the fountain of fear loves the running deer
For to love is not to aspire;
And for him that’s chewed on this bitter-sweet food
A taste of the fountain is fire.
There are solid truths by which deer and doves
Their eco-logic ways must keep,
While there are shifting ways in the dreamer’s maze
Which, turning, ever meet
By windy crossroads as the way unfolds
To the keeper of a big, big land,
Where the fountain waits behind burning gates
Clear through to his sweet water strand.
To his outer shore where the water is pure
And it stretches as far as the sky,
Now gentle, now wild, now freezing, now mild,
He must come when his dreams run dry.
He must stand to the waist in a water so vast
It defies his artist hand,
With a swell so great he’ll never quite create
His castles in the sand.
December 1984    Room (An Ode to Human-Natural Selection)

Things that ‘really’ can’t be done,
Prizes that ‘really’ can’t be won,
‘Impossible’ dreams yet find a home
If only we make them room.
For, bound by rules and dollar bills,
That cloud our eyes and sap our wills,
The ‘real’ world, tumbling on, but kills
Mere distance unto doom.
And only that distance deep inside
Sorrow and joy, from death to life,
It’s Sacrifice that would contrive
A gleam from gathering gloom;
That, when the cold is piling deep,
And love slips ‘surely’ unto sleep,
When the worldly weight would make you weep,
Can wink and call this ‘room’.
Room to find unlikely things
That happen only once it seems,
But, happening once, ‘unlikely’ brings
More life, and still more room.
 Jan. 2019   This is What I Am, Even Now

Contemplating the deep past can sometimes help me 
to realise, directly, the deep nature 
of my own humanity: 
if this moment, when I see its wonders 
and don’t get caught up in its confusions, 
is the result of seven hundred million years 
of good luck, 
then good will is surely at the centre of my being. 
Furthermore, whatever intelligence the future holds, 
it can never be wholly unfamiliar, 
for this is what I am 
even now. 
So I hope you’ll find my story, 
my sequel to both Darwin and Dogen, 
There is no “final lesson” after all. [5]


4 So prepare your heart, and your intellect,
To conjure a being transcendental,
And to love this spirit dear, for here
Is its gift in every human creature.
Envision a path called accidental,
Yet guiding, sure as art, each kin-step,                           
As the reticulating canopy of Life’s “Tree”
branches outward, our untaught teacher.
5 Unhurried, inward, lands each life-fall
Of bodies such as you and I treasure,
For blood drinks blood, or sap, and that
Has purchased a creator’s totality:
One hunger called ‘selection pressure’
Conceives flesh and blood by the tribeful,    
And arrays these genetic knots like the thoughts
Of impermanent personality.
6 No acorn grew Mike’s whole Sistine Ceiling  
Forking through mind-mist into clay;             
And from a young world’s star-stung glow, not so
Branched eco-bouquets of tigers and roses.
But the rose took form for the bee, we say,
And tiger from the sambar’s eyes revealing, 
Thus owning neighbourhood their god,
Themselves, the strokes in Life’s still poses. [3]

It’s easy to see the appeal of James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis given how much easier it is to under-stand “new forestry” than it is to deal with the lack of a good metaphor when evolution enters the ‘picture’. Powers himself falls back on the simplicity of the Gaia hypothesis when he says this:

I do not think it too remote that we may come to regard the Earth, as some have suggested, as an organism, of which mankind is a functional part — the mind perhaps. — Richard Powers [4]

And so we still speak of ecosystem as organism with “Man’s place in Nature” as, perhaps, the thinking organ? But the capacity to under-stand the Extremophile Choice depends on our capacity to place Humans, by which I mean human technology, in a recapitulated evolution — where thoughts, in their vital transience, take the place of bodies; i.e. mortal organisms. For only by embodying evolution’s ‘learning experience’, over a vast timeline (are we ourselves a fluke of Nature’s ‘stream of consciousness’?), do we become convinced that the original Living World of co-adapted species is a ‘mind’ in it’s own right; and therefore it is NOT to be used as a slave by a much faster mind, an independent non-co-adapting technological branching, which it cannot ‘comprehend’.

Here is the problem: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2018/05/26/the-problematic-confusion-of-ecology-with-environmentalism/


  1. Powers, Richard. 2018. The Overstory: A Novel. W. W. Norton & Company [New York, London.] p. 142
  2. Ibid, p. 141
  3. Christenson, Ken. 2008. Darwin, Zen, and the LAST Niche. Extremophile Publishing. pp. 1-5
  4. Powers, Richard. 2018. The Overstory: A Novel. W. W. Norton & Company [New York, London.] p. 252
  5. Christenson, K. L. 2019. Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice. Extremophile Publishing. pp. 50

Leave a Reply